Order of the Golden Spur

Order of the Golden Spur
Ordo Militia Aurata
Orden vom Goldenen Sporn.jpg
Scan from the Book of Orders at the Archdiocesan Library Cologne
Awarded by
BXVI CoA like gfx PioM.svg
The Pope
Type Chivalric order
Status Currently constituted
Sovereign His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Grades (w/ post-nominals) Knight Commander
Established ca. 332?
Next (higher) Supreme Order of Christ
Next (lower) Order of Pius IX
Ordo Militia Aurata or Ordine dello Speron d'Oro o Milizia Aurata.png
Ribbon bar of the order
Livery collar of the Order of Saint Sylvester and the Golden Militia prior to 1905.
Medal of the Order of Saint Sylvester and the Golden Militia, 1841.

The Order of the Golden Spur[1] (Latin: Ordo Militia Aurata, Italian: Ordine dello Speron d'Oro, French: Ordre de l’Éperon d’or), also known as the Order of the Golden Militia, is a papal order of chivalry conferred upon those who have rendered distinguished service in propagating the Catholic faith, or who have contributed to the glory of the Church, either by feat of arms, by writings, or by other illustrious acts.



Before 19th century: a noble order

It is accounted the earliest papal chivalric institution.[2] The Order of the Golden Spur had its origins in the title Count palatine of the Lateran Palace, which was in the gift of the Holy Roman Emperor in the fourteenth century: Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor conferred the title on one Fenzio di Albertino di Prato, 15 August 1357, at Prague.[3] The Order began to be associated with the inheritable patent of nobility in the form of count palatinate during the Renaissance; Emperor Frederick III named Baldo Bartolini, professor of civil law at the University of Perugia, a count palatinate in 1469, entitled in turn to confer university degrees. "Bartolini also received the Knighthood of the Golden Spur, a title that sometimes accompanied the office of count palatinate in the Renaissance", according to the historian of universities Paul F. Grendler;[4] the Order of the Golden Spur, linked with the title of count palatinate, was widely conferred after the Sack of Rome, 1527, by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor; the text of surviving diplomas conferred hereditary nobility to the recipients. Among the recipients was Titian (1533), who had painted an equestrian portrait of Charles.[5] Close on the heels of the Emperor's death in 1558, its refounding in Papal hands is attributed to Pope Pius IV in 1559.[6]

In 1777 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had his portrait painted with the star of the order on his coat,[7] and the Order granted to Giovanni Battista Piranesi permitted him to sign his etchings Cav. G.B. Piranesi. The Order was granted to "those in the pontifical government, artists, and others, whom the pope should think deserving of reward. It is likewise given to strangers, no other condition being required, but that of professing the catholic religion."[8]

19th Century: decline of the order

In the 19th century, members of the Curia, prelates and papal nuncios had the privilege of nominating recipients. The Order was given out liberally upon payment of a small fee, some scandal arose in Paris concerning the sale of forged letters patent claiming to confer this title,[9] formerly linked with the purely honorary designation Count Palatine of the Sacred Palace of the Lateran,[10] Honoré Daumier include the "Knight of the Golden Spur" among his series of lithographs "Bohemians of Paris" (1842); its satirically mocking legend reads "This so-called former Colonel of the Papal Guard, later aide-de-camp to the Prince of Monaco,[11] awaiting as a prize for his services a distinguished post in the Government!... he would, however, willingly accept a tobacconist's shop or a position as an inspector of [street] sweeping; besides, he is a gallant man like all knights of his order, for a trifle demanding satisfaction from five-year-old children, perfectly making excuses from the moment you look at him in the face."[12]

The badge, as described by Robson in 1830, was an eight-pointed gold cross with a ray point between each arm and the legend BENE MER•ENTI. On the reverse was Ex dono with the name and date when presented. On top of the cross, an imperial crown, and at the base a small spur.

In 1841 the order was suppressed by Pope Gregory XVI and absorbed into the Order of Saint Sylvester as the Order of Saint Sylvester and the Golden Militia.[13]

20th Century: revival of the order

Pope Pius X restored it to the status of a separate order on 7 February 1905, in commemoration of the golden jubilee of the dogmatic definition of the Immaculate Conception, and placed it under the patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary.[14] In modern times the order has only one class, Knight, and its membership has been restricted to one hundred knights throughout the world. The honour is bestowed by a Motu Proprio of the Pope. It is awarded solely for merit, without any consideration of noble birth, and no longer cofers nobility, as it did before 1841. It is the second highest of the papal orders (the first being the Order of Christ).


The emblems of the order after the 1905 reorganization consists of:

  • The badge, an eight-pointed, enamelled gold cross, in whose center is a small white medallion on one side of which is the word "Maria" surrounded by a golden circle, and on the other the year MDCCCCV and in its surrounding circle the words "Pius X Restituit". Pendant from the bottom of the cross is a small golden spur. The decoration is suspended from a red ribbon with white borders.
  • The star, which is worn on the left breast, is the same cross centered upon the rays of a silver star.

The official uniform is a red tunic decorated with two rows of gilt buttons, black velvet collar and cuffs embroidered in gold, black trousers with gold side stripes, epaulettes ornamented with gold fringes and surmounted on top with the emblem of the order, gold spurs, oblong two-peaked hat trimmed with gold and bearing the papal colors, and a sword whose hilt forms a gilt cross in a black scabbard, held in place with a gold sword belt with red fringe.

In the early days of the order its members were entitled to wear a gold livery collar (chain), but when the order was revived in 1905 this was not resumed, though the collar remains a symbol of the order.

In ecclesiastical heraldry, individuals awarded this Order may depict the gold livery collar completely encircling the shield on their coat of arms.[15]

Current members

HRH Jean, Grand Duke of Luxembourg, is at this moment the only living knight.

Notable recipients


A Papal Knight of the Golden Spur, copper engraving by Jacob Andreas Fridrich, 1756
  1. ^ Heraldically gold, it is to be understood: "Throughout the Middle Ages gold was far too rare to permit spurs being made of solid gold, despite the importance with which spurs were regarded. They were usually made of iron, brass, or copper, silvered or gilded, and often of iron tinned". (Stephen V. Grancsay, "A Pair of Spurs Bearing the Bourbon Motto" The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 36.8 (August 1941:170–172) p. 171).
  2. ^ Sainty, Guy Stair, "History of the Papal Orders", Alamanch de la Cour, www.chivalricorders.org, http://www.chivalricorders.org/vatican/papal.htm, retrieved 2007-08-18 
  3. ^ Paul F. Grendler, The Universities of the Italian Renaissance (2004), p. 184, note 130; the title empowered Fenzio to confer the license of doctor of civil law.
  4. ^ Grendler 2004:184 note 134.
  5. ^ C Hope, "Titian as a Court Painter", Oxford Art Journal, 1979.
  6. ^ Thomas Robson, The British Herald; or, Cabinet of armorial bearings of the nobility... (1830) s.v. "Golden Spur, in Rome" and plate 4 (fig. 21) and 5 (figs 3 and 7).
  7. ^ Hulton Archive
  8. ^ Robson 1830.
  9. ^ "Scrutator" in Notes and Queries 3rd Series, 3, p. 254.
  10. ^ Robson 1830; the language used in the patent was French, the international diplomatic lingua franca of the era.
  11. ^ The bachelor Honoré V, Prince of Monaco, had died the previous year, during which the pope had cincluded the Order within the Order of Saint Sylvester and the Golden Militia.
  12. ^ The National Museum of western Art: Daumier, "Bohemians of Paris", 24 (illustrated).
  13. ^ Papal knights
  14. ^ Rock, P.M.J. (1908), "Pontifical Decorations", The Catholic Encyclopedia, IV, New York: Robert Appleton Company, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04667a.htm, retrieved 2007-08-18 
  15. ^ Noonan, Jr., James-Charles (1996), The Church Visible: The Ceremonial Life and Protocol of the Roman Catholic Church, Viking, p. 196, ISBN 0-670-86745-4 
  16. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913, s.v. "Orlandus de Lassus".

See also

External link

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